It wasn’t unusual for Madison and him to share the bed.
His marriage to Amelia had ended in a bitter, messy feud fueled by screaming, slammed doors, and insults hurled alongside coffee cups and picture frames. The court had sided with James and awarded him both full custody and a restraining order, citing Amelia’s history of verbal abuse and physical aggression. Madison had only been nine at the time, and she’d had nightmares for nearly a year afterwards. Night after night she’d wake up crying. Sometimes she’d wander into her father’s room and crawl into bed to sob herself to sleep against his chest. Sometimes he’d go to her room and sooth her back to sleep with a litany of shh shh, Daddy’s here, it’s okay and hummed lullabies that faded when he dozed off, too.
Life as a single father hadn’t been as bad as he’d feared. Maddie was a bright girl, mature for her age, and — thank God — well-behaved. Emotional counseling had helped both of them adjust to new routines and new reality, and eventually her nightmares became less frequent and less traumatic. The older Madison got, the less often she needed the comfort, but by then they’d fallen into a comfortable routine that worked for them both.
Eventually James had started dating again, and met Jennifer. Eventually, he’d ventured down the aisle a second time. She was half his age; he’d always dated much younger women, and was proud of his looks and fitness as he neared, then reached, the half-century mark. Jen teased him about being her very own silver fox, and he was more than happy to prove to her that age hadn’t slowed him down.
Jen’s job with the advertising agency meant frequent travel, often for a week or more at a time, but he was a grown man and didn’t mind the time alone. Absence made the heart grow fonder. Besides, Madison still lived at home, well past her graduation date. He teased her as ‘failure to launch’; she claimed Millennial misery. It wasn’t uncommon, while Jen was away, for James to wake up and find his daughter asleep next to him after a bad day or a restless night.
Maddie didn’t know, of course, what he did while she was asleep.